I’m blind, I skied, and this is what happened
John loves the snowy mountains while I love the sunny beaches, which is why for each of our respective bachelor/bachelorette trips, we headed to our desired destination: John to Breckenridge and me to Miami. Now that we’re married, we try to appreciate the other’s preference for the outdoors. This meant I had to bundle up and face my most dreaded enemy: the cold.
John fell in love with snowboarding after he went for the first time last year. Before his bachelor trip, he had never seen real snow in his life. Born and raised in Houston, the only kind of “snow” he’d seen was the southeast Texas kind: quick flurries that came about once a decade. But ever since he got a taste of the snow and mountains, he was hooked. And so this year, whether I liked it or not, he was going to plan a trip back to Colorado.
Never in my lifetime did I think I was going to attempt snow sports again. My first ski trip occurred over 15 years ago. I went for only one day with my family. After two runs down the bunny slopes, my uncle assured me I was ready for the green (intermediate) trails. What the hell was he thinking? It took me 2.5 hours to get down those greens. Meanwhile, my cousin lapped me three times on the slopes, a pro at the tender age of six. I ripped a hole in my pants with the ski pole and at one point, even skied straight into the yellow caution tape that roped off the edge of the cliff. It was a horrible experience, and I never wanted to do it again, let alone do it blind.
But that’s exactly what I attempted this time around. I decided it was something I should do not so much for my husband but for myself. I wanted to feel capable. It was something I had to prove to myself.
The Breckenridge Outdoor Educational Center (BOEC) is a neat non-profit facility whose mission is to adapt recreational activities so that all (including those with special needs) can enjoy the outdoors. The instructors from their adaptive ski school are certified to teach and guide those that are blind or paralyzed. Originally, I was going to sign up for snowboarding, but the BOEC advised that boarding was an activity better done if I had 3+ days to spend on the slopes. Because our trip contained only two full days on the slopes, the BOEC folks suggested I try skiing first, that I’d see more success with skiing in only 48 hours. And so I listened to their better judgment and opted for skiing instead despite the nightmare experience I had a decade and a half earlier.
The first half of the first day was spent feeling out what it was like to glide around with a ski on the bottom of my foot. First, I walked around on flat snow with a ski on my left foot only. Then just my right. Finally with both of them on my feet. Then I took the magic carpet/conveyor belt to the top of the bunny slope and practiced the wedge: the wider the wedge, the slower you go. Eventually, I learned to turn and make S’s in the snow. The afternoon was spent on the green trail at Breckenridge, and I actually made it down the entire green without falling! (See my skiing skills in the below video.) Granted I was going 1 mph, but still…I was so proud of myself.
I went against my teacher’s advice the next day and tried to ski Keystone instead of sticking to Breckenridge where, as John says, the greens at Key were like the blues(one level higher than greens) at Breck. The trails were steeper, and I ended up cutting my full day lessons in half to just a morning session because I was utterly exhausted. Not only is the sport already tremendously tiring–your legs are working muscles they don’t normally work–but for me who is a beginner and blind at that, skiing made my entire body tense because I was trying so hard not to fall. In addition to that, the fact that I can’t see to focus on any one spot made me get motion sickness on both the lift and at the bottom of the mountain; whenever I’d stopped, my brain and body still felt like I was moving. Needless to say, concentrating so hard on not falling and not upchucking all over my teacher were enough for me to throw in the towel by lunchtime.
I must say, though, that my instructor, Jeff, and his assisting intern, Brian, were awesome because I only fell twice in the 1.5 days I skied. They made my experience as awesome as it could be, considering I was a turtle on the slopes and had to wear a bright orange bib that said “BLIND SKIER.” At least I wasn’t tied to the end of a rope like a sled dog.
A bonus to the Colorado trip was the reunion I had with Erin and Jenna, the two wonderful young women I met at the NMO Patient Day. In the three months that we’ve known each other, we’ve grown incredibly close, communicating either by phone or email every week, sharing the goings-on in our lives, our day-to-day routines combined with our NMO struggles. It was great to see them again and know that we were all hitting the slopes to prove something to ourselves: that in spite of the obstacles, we indeed can do it!
The BOEC does more than skiing and boarding. During the summer, there are season-appropriate sports like whitewater rafting. Go here to learn more about the BOEC. And you also don’t have to go to Colorado to do adaptive skiing. There are schools all over the U.S. and Canada. Just google your destination along with “adaptive ski school,” and you should be able to find what you’re looking for. And remember, if the Blind can Do it, so can you.